First Battle of the Modoc War

Perhaps few places on earth, of like area, have cost so much in blood and treasure as Klamath land, and yet it may be worth the price, dear as it was, for it is one of nature’s brightest gems. The native possessor held it with a tenacity which compels us to admire his patriotism, his reverence for the land of his ancestors, while we deprecate the methods of his warfare. As he would put it: “Here is the dust of my fathers. Better for me to die here than to be removed to any other country. If I die here I go down to dust with my father and my people. If I die in some other land I shall be lost forever.”

The Modocs stood as bloody sentinels along the line of the emigrant road. As far back as 1852 they began the work of ambush and slaughter, and Modoc land was for a quarter of a century the scene not only of savage treachery and cruelty, but of heroic deeds and tragic incident. Weary immigrants toiling onward toward the setting sun – no record tells how many – were here sacrificed almost on the very threshold of their land of promise.

Later, when the enterprising white man, having seen and appreciated this land of green meadows, silvery lakes and crystal streams, determined to possess it, brave settlers, representing that hardy race of men and women who have led the hosts of civilization across the continent, planted settlements here; but a band of about three hundred renegade Modocs, under the leadership of Captain Jack, renouncing the authority of brave old Schonchin, the rightf’ul chief, inaugurated a reign of terror throughout the lake country.

During the summer of 1872 many petitions were forwarded through the Indian Department, asking the authorities at Washington to order the removal of Captain Jack’s band from the vicinity of Tule Lake, their ancient home, to the Klamath Reservation, and to keep them there. Orders were finally received by the Superintendent of Indian Affairs in Oregon, Hon. Thos. B. Odeneal, to secure their removal, peaceably if possible, but by force if necessary.

On his arrival from Salem, Mr. Odeneal, having by messenger called upon the Modocs to return to the reservation without avail, determined to place the matter in the hands of Capt. James Jackson, of the United States Army, an officer of well-known discretion and courage. At noon, on the 28th day of November, 1872, Captain Jackson, with thirty-five men of Company B, First United States Cavalry, left Fort Klamath and arrived at the pioneer town of Linkville at a little after dark. Here he met Superintendent Odeneal and received instructions as follows:

“When you arrive at the camp of the Modocs, request an interview with the head men and say to them that you did not come to fight or to harm them, but to have them go peaceably to Camp Yainax on Klamath Reservation, where ample provision has been made for their comfort and subsistence, and where, by treaty, they agreed to live. Talk kindly but firmly to them, and whatever else you may do, I desire to urge that if there is any fighting let the Indians be the aggressors. Fire no gun except in self-defense, after they have first fired upon you. I. D. Applegate will accompany you as my representative; will also act as guide and interpreter.”

During that dark rainy night we made our way from Linkville down the Klamath Valley toward the stone bridge on Lost River, where Captain Jack was encamped on the west side of the river. About a third of his forces, under Hooker Jim and the Curly-headed Doctor and some other of his trusty lieutenants, were encamped on the east side of the river near the Dennis Crawley cabin.

We found it very difficult in the darkness to make our way through the heavy sage-brush, for we had to leave the road in order to avoid being discovered by the wily Indians who, doubtless, were observing as closely as possible every movement. We followed along the foot of the chain of hills west from Lost River, and at daylight we were about one mile west of the Modoc camp, which was at that point on the river-bank where Dan Colwell’s residence now stands.

The company was formed into two platoons, and we rode directly through the village and halted upon the river-bank, facing the encampment. As we came near the river, Scar-faced Charley, who had crossed just before we came up, fired at us from the other side of the river, shouting at the same time to arouse the sleeping Indians. In a moment there was great excitement and commotion.

As soon as the men were dismounted and advanced in line, standing at order arms in front of the horses, I was directed to enter the camp to see Captain Jack and inform him of our friendly mission and assure him that no harm was intended, but that he would be required to remove with his people to the reservation. Going from camp to camp I was not able to find Captain Jack.

As I came out of one of the huts I saw Scar-faced coming up the river-bank. As he passed Major Jackson, who was still mounted, the Major ordered him to halt, at the same time drawing his revolver. To this Scarfaced paid no attention, but came on into the village, all the time haranguing his people and demanding that they fight to the death; telling them that if they would be quick enough they could kill every soldier without the loss of a man. With an oath, he rushed past me and went into Bogus Charley’s tent, and in a moment both Scar-faced and Bogus appeared with their guns drawn, and called to the women and children to throw themselves flat on the ground. Then I knew they were going to fire upon us. I immediately started toward our men saying, “Major, they are going to fire! ”

At this, the Major ordered Lieutenant Boutelle, who stood in advance of the line, to take four men and arrest the two Indians who had guns in their hands. As Boutelle stepped forward with the four men, the two Indians fired. The warriors in the camps and in the heavy sagebrush in the rear of the village fired almost simultaneously. Then all was din and commotion; men were falling in the line, the riderless horses were dashing here and there and kicking among us, but instantly came the order from the brave Major, “Fire!”

The attack was so sudden and desperate, the Modocs rushing onto us with demon-like yells, that the men were forced back a step or two, and it seemed for a moment that the thinned line would yield and break. But immediately came the order “Forward!” and it was like an inspiration. The men sprang forward, under the leadership of the brave Boutelle, delivering a deadly fire, and the Indians were forced back.

Scar-faced’s first shot struck Boutelle’s revolver, disabling it, and cutting through the sleeve of his blouse, passed through the clothing on his right shoulder. Scarfaced was knocked down by a bullet which cut through the handkerchief he had tied around his head, and Watchman, Captain Jack’s most daring lieutenant, fell, riddled with bullets, almost at our feet. Boutelle’s calmness saved us. Speaking to the men coolly and confidently, he led the charge into and through the village, driving the Indians out, advancing his skirmish-line far beyond into the heavy sage-brush.

O. C. Applegate, who was to take charge of Captain Jack’s band in case they came onto the reservation, rode from his station at Yainax on November 28th, reaching Linkville (Klamath Falls) late in the evening. Superintendent Odeneal informed him of the movement on foot and requested him to be present to assist in securing, if possible, a peaceable removal of the Modocs. With the Klamath scout, Dave Hill, and five trusty citizens, he forded Lost River near the Lone Pine that night and reached the Crawley cabin, near Hooker Jim’s camp, about daylight on the morning of the 29th, finding there Messenger Brown of the Indian Department, Dennis Crawley, Dan Colwell and a few other citizens. When daylight revealed the presence of the cavalry in Captain Jack’s camp, Hooker’s men made a rush for their canoes, evidently to reinforce Captain Jack, but were prevented by the citizens. The object of the authorities was explained to the Indians, and a few of them were in the act of giving up their arms when the firing began at Captain Jack’s camp.

Instantly the Modocs fired on the citizens and a fierce fight at close range took place, so that, looking across the river during the fight with Captain Jack, we could see another battle going on almost opposite to us. Two citizens, Jack Thurber and William Nus, were killed and Joe Penning was maimed for life, and the Indians, securing their own horses, which were near at hand, escaped to the long rocky ridge east of where the Frank Adams’ farm is now located; while the citizens rallied at the Crawley cabin.

Captain Jack, with most of his best and most desperate men, had made good his escape, though at the time both he and Scar-faced were reported among the killed, even by the prisoners. We had lost Sergeant Harris, killed, and as nearly as I can remember, six men were mortally wounded, and several others painfully though not dangerously hurt. Among the Indians killed were Watchman and We-sing-ko-pos, leading warriors, and Black Jim, Long Jim and Miller’s Charley were among the wounded. The loss on our side amounted to fully a third of the military force then in the field, and was quite sufficient to disable Captain Jackson’s small force for the time being.

After the fight Captain Jackson sent his wounded across the river in a canoe, Dave Hill being the oarsman; Surgeon McEldery and a few more as a guard were also taken over and the men were conveyed to the Crawley cabin. The remaining troopers mounted their jaded horses and, as there was no ford in the vicinity, hastily rode up toward the Stukel Ford seven miles distant. Before arriving at the ford word reached them that Jack and his infuriated men had renewed the fight. Looking toward Tule Lake great volumes of smoke could be seen arising from burning buildings. Dashing through the rapid ford, the poor horses seemed to realize the awful situation as they put forth renewed effort down the river with utmost speed on the east side, and soon the cavalry rode onto the ground where the citizens and Hooker’s men had so lately fought, but the wily savage was already wreaking vengeance on the inoffensive settlers, beyond the ridge on the plains at the head of Tule Lake.

The butchering and devastation on Tule Lake had already begun, and eighteen settlers were added that day to the long list of Modoc victims.

On that fateful day, a few miles below the scene of the fight, a mule team was seen coming toward the Boddy residence, but no driver held the reins. Mrs. Boddy secured, unhitched and stabled the team. Very uneasy, she called to her married daughter, Mrs. Schira, and hastily the two women started toward the woods where the men had gone that morning to their accustomed work. They had not gone far when they saw the Indians not far away and heard the awful war-whoop. Soon they came upon the stripped and mutilated body of Mr. Schira, and soon after those of Mr. Boddy and his older son.

The younger boy who had been on the plain below herding sheep could not be seen, and the sheep were wandering at will among the sage. The heroic but horrorstricken women knew that all were killed; that nothing remained for them but to seek their own safety in flight, to hide themselves among the juniper and mahogany, in the almost trackless and, to them, unknown woods. Struggling onward, they knew not whither, only that they felt that they were going away from a sad and awful scene, soon night settled upon them among the mountain solitudes. As they shivered amid the snow and strove to look down through tears of burning anguish toward the mutilated forms of dear ones and upon desolated homes, what tongue could tell, what pen depict the poignancy of their grief ?

Applegate, Ivan D. <cite>A Civilian’s Description of the First Battle of the Modoc War</cite>. From the souvenir edition of The Klamath Falls Express, January 10, 1895.


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